Boof. It’s the sort of thing that might be jagged into a comic strip. Bam! Kapow! Boof! The question now is whether it should still accompany a lubberly nightclub jab at Joe Root – or the impact of James Anderson’s first ball at Trent Bridge on Wednesday week, closely followed by the tinkling of pavilion glass?
Wodehouse gave us Oofy Prosser. In Darren Lehmann, Australia instead glories in Boof: a bald, bellied syllable, aptly condensing the “back-to-basics” purging of those complex misfits and toxic miscreants suddenly transferred to his care.
The sniggering consensus, among Oofy and his fellow Drones, is that the appointment of a new coach, so close to the Ashes, rips the final, soiled rags of dignity from Australia’s shambolic cricket circus. In a panicked lunge at the nuclear option, they have clumsily pressed the self-destruct button instead. Mickey Arthur is well out of it. Just about all we’re missing, in fact, is for someone to reprise Tony Greig’s vow, to the West Indies in 1976, that the tourists will be made to “grovel”.
But we all know what happened then. And it does seem a little unnerving that hardly anyone has entertained the possibility that Australia have actually done something positive, daring and smart.
At the very least, Lehmann’s appointment is an attempt to regain control of their own destiny. Arthur is depicted as a decent, sympathetic figure; and some of his former charges as disgracefully lacking pride or principle. If nothing else, however, his removal permits no hiding place to those who sulked about his perceived deficiencies to excuse their own.
Lehmann himself was among many members of the recent, golden generation – whose shadow so deepens the present darkness – to shake their heads over the apparent puerility of relations between Arthur, notoriously setting them “homework”, and the refuseniks suspended in India last winter. By the same token, those who said they would sooner thrash out problems over a crate of beers should perhaps have been careful what they wished for. If they continue to fail, now, it will simply be because they just don’t cut it.
And, yes, that does remain the most feasible outcome. While the bowling can bark, it really needs a top-class spinner to bite; and the batting does seem horribly porous. Some in the team may find their captain distastefully metrosexual, traducing a hale, virile national culture. But they must none the less acknowledge him as their one and only candidate for a World XI.
To which extent, it might not make the slightest difference if they were coached by Bobby Simpson or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. On the other hand, Lehmann certainly seems a bespoke fit as wildcard for a crisis of this kind. If they are to go down, then there does at least seem a chance that they might now go down fighting. The Poms, that is, rather than each other.
And who knows? Perhaps the sheer melodrama of his arrival, in its timing, might ignite a bunch of blokes who have hitherto proved mysteriously precious about their right to be – well, to be blokes.
Boof, of course, is the ultimate good old Aussie bloke. He likes a beer and a smoke, cherishes those bonds forged by a game that measures character like no other. Everything now depends, however, on whether his example appeals only to the vanity of his new charges – or to their shame.
For how many – above all since the retirement of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey – have truly measured up to the Boof standard? Its egos bloated by earnings that bear no intelligible relation to their merit, this dressing room has little of the discipline or leadership that once enabled Arthur to do his quiet, affable thing in his native South Africa. To describe a plea for some brief, honest reflection as “homework” was transparently provocative; never mind to decide that it was beneath their dignity. David Warner’s pathetic antics, meanwhile, betrayed a brazen contempt for Arthur; yet it was his indulgent treatment, after attacking Root, that finally persuaded Arthur’s bosses the squad was terminally adrift.
Some players seem to have mistaken self-respect for self-regard. They have lacked precisely the fortitude and forbearance that might qualify them as what they claim to be: proud Australian blokes. They presume a kinship with Boof – but are heading for trouble if they cannot harness his unpretentious, earthy style to those standards he has long set in dependability, engagement and sheer class. For if Arthur was always going to be the easier target, when it came to dividing blame between coach and players, then Lehmann has changed that dynamic in a way that ought to concentrate minds.
In his coaching career to date, he has several times already forged a team greater than the sum of its parts. In a week when the second most important post in Australia – that of Prime Minister – also changed hands, Boof could yet remind complacent Englishmen that the Ashes, through the phoenix, are actually a symbol of rebirth.
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